Western RoundUp: Hidden Gems, Vol. 2

Western RoundUp: Hidden Gems, Vol. 2

At the beginning of this year, I wrote a column on three Westerns I consider “Hidden Gems,” lesser-known yet very entertaining movies.

Here’s a trio of three more Westerns I’ve really enjoyed which aren’t widely known; they’re all quite well done, and even the least of these films rewards the viewer with memorable characterizations and surprises.


Roughshod (Mark Robson, 1949)

Roughshod (1949) Movie Poster
Roughshod (1949)

One of the films in my original “Hidden Gems” column, The Desperado (1954), was written by Daniel Mainwaring, who also wrote the classic film noir Out of the Past (1947) under another name, Geoffrey Homes.

Mainwaring turns up again here as the co-screenwriter, along with Hugo Butler, of one of my favorite lesser-known Westerns, RKO’s Roughshod.  Roughshod was well directed by Mark Robson, who launched his career a few years previously making compact but spooky Val Lewton thrillers such as The Seventh Victim (1943) and The Ghost Ship (1943).

Roughshod (1949) Claude Jarman Jr.
Claude Jarman Jr.

Robert Sterling and Claude Jarman Jr., who had both worked at MGM earlier in the ’40s, play brothers Clay and Steve Phillips, who as the film opens are driving horses over the Sonora Pass.

The brothers stumble across a broken-down buggy with four stranded dance hall girls headed to Sonora, played by Gloria Grahame, Martha Hyer, Jeff Donnell, and Myrna Dell.

As they assist the women, Clay tentatively begins to develop a relationship with gorgeous, worldly Mary (Grahame), while events push the other ladies to make significant choices about their futures.

It’s not all smooth going, however, as a trio of killers, led by an escaped convict named Lednov (John Ireland), are in the area, and Lednov is hunting for Clay.

The cast is excellent, and the film particularly made me wish that Sterling made more than a small handful of Westerns, as he seems quite at home in this genre.  Jarman, a year ahead of making Rio Grande (1950) for John Ford, is likewise excellent as Clay’s loyal young brother, whose determination to help Clay at a critical moment belies his age.

Gloria Grahame and Robert Sterling Roughsod (1949)
Gloria Grahame and Robert Sterling

The film mixes pleasant moments centered on the characters’ relationships, such as Mary teaching Steve to read, with a few scenes which are quite dark, due in large part to Ireland’s believability as a deranged killer.  Director Robson handles the material so capably that, just as with Sterling, I was left wishing he had made more Westerns

With the exception of a few interiors and process shots, Roughshod was filmed entirely on location in the Sierras.  Joseph Biroc’s evocative cinematography beautifully captures a “fresh air” feel in which the viewer can almost smell the dust and the trees.  The excellent location work gives the film an authentic kind of “you are there” immediacy which helps enable the viewer to be deeply immersed in the story.  

Highly recommended.

Roughshod is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.


Dragoon Wells Massacre (Harold D. Schuster, 1957)

Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957) Movie Poster
Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)

Actor-writer Warren Douglas penned the screenplay for Dragoon Wells Massacre, using one of the genre’s most familiar plot conventions, the disparate band of travelers under attack from Indians.  

John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) is one of the earliest and best examples of this theme, which encourages filmmakers to simultaneously focus on both action and character development.  As with other regularly used Western plot devices, the fun is in watching a film’s unique take.

Dragoon Wells Massacre is blessed with a terrific cast, headed by two excellent leading men, Dennis O’Keefe and Barry Sullivan.  

Katy Jurado, Mona Freeman, Casey Adams, and Barry Sullivan in Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)
Katy Jurado, Mona Freeman, Casey Adams, and Barry Sullivan

O’Keefe and Sullivan play polar opposites, with O’Keefe as a soldier who is the lone survivor of an Indian attack, while Sullivan is an accused criminal being taken to trial by a marshal (Trevor Bardette).  Jack Elam costars as a second man in the marshal’s custody.

These men, representing both sides of the law, meet up with several others in the desert, including the passengers of a broken-down stagecoach (Mona Freeman, Katy Jurado, and Casey Adams).

Character is revealed as Indians constantly attack the group, killing both men and horses.  The supposed criminals played by Sullivan and Elam prove to be among the most courageous in the group, with Sullivan also finding time to romance the tempestuous Freeman, who has previously been poorly matched with O’Keefe and then Adams.  

Mona Freeman and Barry Sullivan in Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)
Mona Freeman and Barry Sullivan

Sullivan, as is often the case in his career, comes close to stealing the movie from a fine cast.  His character has wonderful bits of business, such as spending quieter moments playing cards with the marshal.  Elam is also a particular standout as a grizzled bad guy who comforts a little girl (Judy Stranges) found by the group.

Director Harold Schuster keeps the action moving briskly.  This CinemaScope film was shot in Utah by William Clothier, known for his work on many films produced by or starring John Wayne. Look for screenwriter Douglas in a small role as Jud.

Dragoon Wells Massacre has had a Region 2 release in Germany but has not yet had an authorized home viewing release in the United States.  I very much hope that one day it will be more widely available.


Four Fast Guns (William J. Hole Jr., 1960)

Four Fast Guns (1960) Movie Poster
Four Fast Guns (1960)

Late in his film career, former MGM leading man James Craig did some terrific work in “B” Westerns, including a supporting role in Man or Gun (1958), one of the films highlighted in my previous “Hidden Gems” column.

Craig stars in Four Fast Guns, a brisk 72-minute tale of gunslinger Tom Sabin, who kills a “town tamer” in self-defense and then takes the man’s job bringing law to the aptly named Western town of Purgatory.

A wheelchair-bound saloon owner (Paul Richards) has reasons for not wanting the town to be cleaned up and writes to three different hired killers, offering a fee to the man who kills Sabin.  It’s noteworthy that one of the hired guns is played by Richard Martin, best known as Tim Holt‘s sidekick Chito in a long series of RKO “B” Westerns.  It was Martin’s final film.

Four Fast Guns (1960) James Craig
James Craig

The movie has some echoes of Audie Murphy‘s Ride a Crooked Trail (1958), with the seeming bad guy proving to be the man standing for justice, and there are also echoes of Budd Boetticher’s Seven Men From Now (1956) in the economically filmed yet quite entertaining ways Sabin takes out would-be assassins.

Craig brings a world-weary authority and underlying sadness to his role, a part light years away from his easy-going leading man roles of the ’40s.  I especially loved Craig’s unexpected scenes with the final gunman (Brett Halsey) to arrive in Purgatory.

Four Fast Guns was also the last film for actress Martha Vickers, well known to film noir fans for The Big Sleep (1946).  She’s interesting as the saloon owner’s wife who is attracted to Sabin, though the role is somewhat underwritten; viewers watching closely will note that she almost never interacts with her husband, though they’re in many of the same scenes.  I would have liked Vickers’ character to be better fleshed out in the screenplay, but otherwise, this is quite a well-written film, authored by James Edmiston and Dallas Gaultois.

Martha Vickers and Paul Richards Dragoon Wells Massacre (1960)
Martha Vickers and Paul Richards

Edgar Buchanan also adds nice touches as the town drunk who proves to be Sabin’s ally.

There’s nothing better than watching a relatively unknown film like this “cold” and discovering a very worthwhile movie.  Four Fast Guns is a wonderful example of a minor film that provides rewarding Western viewing.

Four Fast Guns is available on DVD from VCI Entertainment.

— Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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11 Responses to Western RoundUp: Hidden Gems, Vol. 2

  1. John Knight says:

    Wonderful selection of underrated/overlooked Westerns.
    ROUGHSHOD deserves to be better known.I recall a bizarre dialog exchange where describing one character to Gloria Grahame someone says “he only chaws a bit and always spits outside” to which Gloria replies “He sounds wonderful”
    Sadly DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE is one of many Allied Artists/Monogram titles that were sold to Republic several decades ago. The film is now owned by Paramount so a DVD release is highly unlikely. Other good Allied Artists titles Paramount now own are AT GUNPOINT,THE TALL STRANGER,JACK SLADE,RETURN OF JACK SLADE and LAST OF THE BADMEN. Too bad these titles are not owned by Warners who love their Allied Artists Westerns and we would have had lovely DVD’s of all of them by now. An Australian outfit called Imprint are currently raiding the Paramount vaults so we live in hope,in fact our pal Toby Roan is doing commentaries for them so maybe he can help pull a few strings.
    FOUR FAST GUNS is a model low budget B Western and thankfully unlike MAN OR GUN a CinemaScope version is available,I’d love to see MAN OR GUN in all of it’s widescreen (Naturama) glory.

  2. Great selection of gems, Laura. The first two are very high up in my favorites list and deserve to be better known.

    As John says, Four Fast Guns is a model of a little cheapo. Loved it when I saw it.

  3. Jerry Entract says:

    This is so enjoyable, Laura, that I hope we get a Hidden Gems Vol.3 down the line!

    “DRAGOON WELLS…” is a solid favourite with two lead actors I really appreciate. The version available is, I believe, in 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the ‘scope picture we should be seeing (others more knowledgable on technical aspects will no doubt put me right, if need be).
    I have only seen “ROUGHSHOD” once and feel a pressing need to see it again soon. I certainly liked it.
    In 1960 on a trip to the local ‘pictures’ with my friends to see a double feature I was treated to “FOUR FAST GUNS” and really enjoyed it. If, decades later, it does not have quite the same pull for me it is nevertheless an enjoyable low budget western of the type we thought would go on forever. Sadly, it was all changing!

  4. John Knight says:

    Regarding my previous comments,I had meant to mention the writer of FOUR FAST GUNS James Edmiston. Mr Edmiston had few writing credits and according to imdb passed away at a very young age (47) The few credits that he did have were very interesting especially A DAY OF FURY an outstanding Universal programmer Western with Dale Robertson,Jock Mahoney and Mara Corday. A DAY OF FURY is a hidden gem if ever there was one. Mr Edmiston also had a hand in the screenplay for DANGEROUS MISSION a personal favorite of mine and I live in hope Warner Archive will give us a restored version one day. Mr Edmiston also as it happens wrote the teleplay for my all time favorite Rawhide episode “Incident With An Executioner”a chilling episode with the great Dan Duryea going full blast.

  5. Laura Grieve says:

    Hi John, thank you so much for your kind words, I’m delighted you have enjoyed my choices and loved hearing your thoughts. It’s sad that DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE may not get an official home DVD release; I’m grateful, at least, for my copy! We will hope that the movies you mention someday see the light of day for home viewing.

    Thank also for mentioning James Edmiston. It’s sad to note that FOUR FAST GUNS was released after his too-early passing. A DAY OF FURY has been recommended to me by multiple people and has been in my “watch” stack for too long — perhaps it is a good candidate for a third edition of “Hidden Gems” (and thanks to Jerry for the encouragement to write one!). Great background on that RAWHIDE episode — I’ve yet to make the acquaintance of that series and look forward to it at some point. (So many TV Westerns, so little time…!)

    Margot, thank you, it’s also great to get your feedback! I love the description of FOUR FAST GUNS as “a model of a little cheapo.” I hope the endorsements of you and everyone here will encourage those who haven’t yet seen these films to give them a try.

    Jerry, I’m so glad to know you enjoyed my column and revisiting these films in your mind’s eye. What great memories of seeing FOUR FAST GUNS as part of a double feature. I’m so glad you share those special moments, love reading about it. Sad for those of us that those movies didn’t “go on forever”!

    Thanks to you all for sharing your love of Westerns and your thoughts on this month’s column!

    Best wishes,

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